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Frances Monson, wife of Mormon church leader, dies

Published May 23, 2013 9:48 am

Religion • Frances Monson never sought the spotlight and always supported her husband in his church duties.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It was love at first sight — or at least first meeting — for the tall, loquacious Thomas S. Monson and the slender beauty, Frances Beverly Johnson.

Soon, he was smitten, Monson later recalled, "I knew I'd found the right one."

Now, after nearly 65 years of marriage, Monson, the LDS Church's 16th president, has lost the woman who walked in dignity beside him, providing quiet strength, support and encouragement as he performed his church duties.

Frances Monson, who had been hospitalized for several weeks, was pronounced dead Friday at 6:35 a.m. of causes incident to age.

She was 85.

"It was a sacred moment," Ann M. Dibb, the couple's daughter, said Friday. "It was amazing to observe her and her great courage, her great strength and humility and love."

Her mom was happy to be a mother, sister, wife and daughter, Dibb said. "She never sought attention for herself."

Frances recognized Tom's abilities as a leader and orator, their daughter said, and felt relieved that she "wasn't the one who had to write and deliver talks before millions."

For his part, Tom was grateful for Frances' mothering instincts and her ability to maintain the one-acre yard and run all the mechanical appliances.

Once when she had to be away at the hospital for a spell, Frances left a note for her kids: 'Dear children, do not let Daddy touch the microwave, or the stove, or the dishwasher, or the dryer.'

Frances was born Oct. 27, 1927, the only daughter of Franz E. Johnson and Hildur Booth Johnson. She had four brothers. She grew up in Salt Lake City during the Great Depression, learning the lessons of hard work and thrift.

A lover of big bands and the outdoors, she graduated from East High and the University of Utah, excelling in mathematics and science studies.

Once asked why she chose such difficult courses, Frances quipped, "Because that is where all the cute boys were."

Tom, son of hardworking Mormon parents, took shorthand and typing among other subjects across town at West High.

The two met in 1944, during Tom's first year at the U. World War II was raging and Frances told the future LDS leader, "You are tall and skinny, and I think you'd look better in a Navy uniform."

So he promptly enlisted in the Naval Reserve.

After a couple of years, Tom was back at the U., where he graduated with honors in 1948 with a business degree. That same year, on Oct. 7, he married Johnson in the Salt Lake LDS Temple. Soon he was a mission president for the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Toronto, and by 36, he was an apostle.

The couple had three children — Thomas Lee, Ann Frances and Clark Spencer.

Frances was pregnant with their third child when Tom was called to preside over the Toronto mission. She had only three weeks to pack up and plan for the move. When they arrived, the mission home needed serious renovations, yet was the center of activity for area Mormons. Overnight, she became the "mission mom" to more than 100 19-year-old boys far from their homes. New ones arrived every week, and she would cook meals for them.

Yet Frances loved it, Dibb said.

Back in Utah, Tom's extensive church involvement often took him away from home for hours, if not weeks at a time. Frances shouldered the burdens of child care, music lessons, housework. At church, she wrestled with the kids in the pews while Tom conducted meetings or visited other LDS wards.

Though Tom passed his love for animals on to the children, it was Frances who sometimes found herself caring for the menagerie of springer spaniels, chickens, rabbits, pigeons and the occasional snake or hawk. She clipped coupons and canned peaches.

She was a "great listener," Dibb said,and always there for her husband and children.

When Tom was first assigned to talk at LDS General Conference, it was during the all-male priesthood session. Frances tried to "stand in the doorway of the Salt Lake Tabernacle to listen to her husband speak, but the ushers wouldn't allow it," Dibb recounted on the church's website, "so she stood as near to the window as possible to hear the talk."

Theirs was a marriage born of mutual respect and admiration, Dibb said Friday. "They had complete acceptance of each other and a desire to bring out the best in each other."

The man considered a "prophet, seer and revelator" by 14 million Mormons, she said, "has lost a part of his heart."

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Bob Mims contributed to this story.

pstack@sltrib.com